Furry friends from here to eternity

■  SUE ERWIN

When you’re placed in the awful position of deciding what to do when your pet is nearing the end-of-life stage, you are faced with some serious questions:

How do I know it’s time?
Is it the right thing to do?
What if I regret the decision?

And the answers aren’t usually easy to accept.

The final presentation in the Lessons Learned From Living series “Furry Friends from here to eternity” will be held at 2 p.m. on Thursday, April 6 in the Houghton Room at the Boca Grande Community Center.

Pets play an important role in today’s households, whether it’s a new furry addition to a family or a beloved companion that’s been with you for years, when faced with the idea of loss it can really run deep.

A panel discussion will be held including Rev. Michelle Robertshaw from St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Lemon Bay Animal Hospital Veterinarian Dr. Paul Belliveau, Grief Specialist Cathy McClung, Tidewell Hospice-Englewood, and Grace Ott licensed clinical social worker and facilitor of the program.

“When someone loses a pet, it’s an invisable kind of grief,” Rev. Michelle Robertshaw said. “It’s not like you are losing a spouse … you’re faced with so many emotions and you go through them all alone.”

Robertshaw said she often gets calls to come and say a final prayer with island folks who are about to lose or have recently lost their pets.

“They’re faced with a tremendous amount of guilt, and prayer can help. I also tell people when they are faced with these decicions, a veterinarian is a good resource to trust because as a professional, most have seen these kinds of situations many times,” Robertshaw said.

And very often some people are dealing with this situation for the first time.

“We recently lost a family pet and I called Michelle because it’s an emotionally overwhelming situation, especially if the pet has been in your household for a long time,” Ott said.

Tidewell Hospice in Englewood has offered a pet loss grief support group in the past and McClung will be discussing details about this group and she’ll have more information about upcoming meetings at the event.

Dr. Belliveau has a wealth of information and experience to share about pets from middle age to end-of-life, so he will be adding a clinical perspective to the panel.

“In general, my discussion will begin with mid-life and I’ll talk about needs while transitioning into the senior years. It will involve vaccination scheduling, nutrition, supplements, blood work and behavior changes,” Belliveau said.

The program is sponsored by the Friends of the Boca Grande Community Center. Rev. Robertshaw said the annual Ecumenical Blessing of Pets ceremony was not held this season due to conflicting schedules of clergy staff and venue issues.

“The event is tied to the feast of St. Francis, the Patron Saint of animals. It’s usually celebrated in October, but we hold it during season because that’s when the greatest amount of our residents are here with their pets,” she said.

She will accept personal requests from island residents who have an ill pet and would like to schedule a blessing. Or if you’d like to hold a ceremony after you’ve lost a pet, you can contact Rev. Robertshaw at the Episcopal Church by calling 964-2257.

A question and answer session will follow after the panel discussion. There is no charge to attend this event, but preregistration is required.

To sign up, call 964-0827 or visit friendsofbocagrande.org.